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'Dobbs' forced a clinic to close. But it hasn't stopped the owner from opening more


The Supreme Court case overturning Roe v. Wade was actually centered on one specific clinic in Mississippi. Jackson Women's Health Organization closed after that decision, but its owner is not backing down. She is opening new clinics in other states. Rosemary Westwood at member station WWNO reports.

ROSEMARY WESTWOOD, BYLINE: Diane Derzis' clinic in Mississippi had been an iconic symbol for abortion supporters for years. The outside was painted a garish, bright shade of pink, and so everybody just called it the Pink House. Soon after the Supreme Court decision, the pink house shut down, but it didn't die. Instead, a few staff members uprooted and moved to New Mexico, where they opened a new clinic in Las Cruces, 24 miles from the Texas border. They call it Pink House West, and it's now helping women who travel from El Paso and other parts of Texas.

DIANE DERZIS: As long as we're continuing to fight for this, there's the chance of success. And it is successful, Successful for some women anyway.

WESTWOOD: Pink House West is also colorful, with rooms painted bright fuchsia and green, and the pinks and yellows that evoke the desert Southwest. Derzis says her clinics should feel warm, homey, like an oasis.

DERZIS: And that's what someone needs when they've - no matter if they came around the block or they drove a thousand miles, they need to feel like somebody cares.

WESTWOOD: Roughly three-quarters of the Las Cruces clinic's patients come from Texas. It's 1 of 14 states that now criminalize abortions. Others have passed six or 12-week bans. Derzis is furious, so she's been opening clinics in strategic places to counteract the new laws.

DERZIS: It's just wrong. This is wrong on so many different levels. That's why I'm crazy opening clinics. It's just - I think that's how I get rid of that or I would absolutely be crazier than I already am.

WESTWOOD: Derzis began working in reproductive health care in the 1970s, and it's been her lifelong passion. Her first clinic in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed in the 1980s. It closed in 2013. She herself has been threatened, but she's never stopped. Two of her older clinics are still operating, one in Richmond, Va., and one in Georgia, despite Georgia's ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Derzis says the Georgia clinic is as busy as it was before the ban, perhaps because patients understand they need to act quickly. And late last summer, Derzis opened a second clinic in Virginia in the town of Bristol, right on the border with Tennessee. Derzis says this clinic draws patients from across the South.

DERZIS: There's just no other way to do it. You know, some women fly, many drive 12 hours, turn around and drive right back home.

WESTWOOD: The Bristol clinic is already facing hostility. The clinic's landlords oppose abortion and have filed suit. They claim they were misled because Derzis and her business partner didn't specify the medical clinic would provide abortions. Derzis is fighting back, saying she's never hidden, that she's in what she calls the abortion business. And the city council voted to change zoning rules to ban any other abortion provider from opening a clinic in Bristol. Her response?

DERZIS: I got a big old banner to put on the building that we were honored to be the only abortion clinic in Bristol. They didn't think that was very funny, though.

WESTWOOD: Derzis can be as acerbic as she is relentless in her decades-long fight to preserve a woman's right to control her body.

DERZIS: You have to be able to laugh. And God knows there's enough to - you know, if you can't laugh, you'd be crying all the time.

WESTWOOD: Derzis is 69 years old, but she has no plans to slow down. Her next step involves opening two more clinics, one in Chicago and one in Baltimore, to help serve the increasing number of women traveling across state lines for care. For NPR News, I'm Rosemary Westwood.

SUMMERS: This story comes from NPR's partnership with WWNO and KFF Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.